Hundreds laid off, thousands of jobs delayed in Alberta oilsands

Floundering oil prices and the shutdown of much of the economy has caused oilsands companies to lay off workers and delay projects. 

Jay Bueckert, regional director for the Christian Labour Association in Fort McMurray, said he takes dozens of calls every day from people who are desperate for work. 

“This is really having an impact on a lot of people’s lives,” Bueckert said.

Within the CLAC alone at least 500 oilsands workers have been laid off in order to scale back operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Oilsands companies Suncor and Syncrude have laid off all non-essential workers and delayed projects to try and minimize the number of employees on site. 

Bueckert said because employees under CLAC are contractors, they’re not being paid during the layoffs. 

“Unfortunately, when it’s a construction project, you have to actually be there doing the construction to get paid for it.”

Oilsands facilities often undergo shutdown work for scheduled maintenance that can only be done while certain equipment is not in use. Companies typically bring in many extra workers to get that work done quickly.

Syncrude’s shutdown maintenance work has been indefinitely postponed. The work had been expected to bring in 850 union jobs. 

Suncor is also postponing several projects.

“For a lot of these folks, they were just getting back to work doing some of these projects,” said Bueckert. “I think it is quite devastating for a few.” 

The industry isn’t just seeing problems because of COVID-19 but also from the steep decrease in oil prices, which has had “a major impact on cash flow for these companies,” Bueckert said.

Terry Parker, executive director of Canada’s Building Trades Unions, said many workers expecting to work on oilsands shutdown projects won’t be needed in the near future. 

He commended the companies for scaling back to keep workers safe, but said those workers need to survive what is an “economic disaster” for them.

There’s a lot less people working and families are hurting​​.– Frank Farberman, Co=owner of Direct Workwear

He said across Alberta workers are looking at about 10,000 jobs being postponed from shutdown work. 

People have been waiting for these jobs to come up for about five months, he said. 

Members are concerned they won’t have paycheques and are also worried about getting sick. 

Parker said some of the shutdown work can be pushed off for about one year, but some of the work needs to be maintained to keep the plant functioning, and that’s what companies are assessing right now. 

“We want to make sure our members are gaining a paycheque, but we also want to make sure things are done right and our members go home safely to their family and friends at the end of their shift.”

Union 488 posted a list of jobs on March 7 with the upcoming shutdown schedule. (Union 488)

People in Fort McMurray are seeing a trickle down from the decrease in oilsands work. 

Frank Farberman owns Direct Workwear with his wife in Fort McMurray. They sell safety gear for oilsands workers, and Farberman said they’ve had to lay off some staff. 

“There’s a lot less people working and families are hurting,” said Farberman. “This town has just been put through too much.”

Farberman said his family-run business will try to help people if they can.

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